Leeds nostalgia: History of Marks & Spencer (Part 2): Don’t ask the price: everything’s a penny

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Two weeks ago historian Mike Harwood began a brief history of Marks & Spencer’s in Leeds. Here, he concludes the story...

It seems that by 1891 there were 8,000 Jews in Leeds, mostly living in the Leylands, an area between. Vicar Lane and North Street (to the West) and Eastgate and Regent Street (to the East) with Lady Lane and Skinner Lane being the south and north boundaries.

It seems likely Michael landed in Hartlepool (County Durham), speaking no English, without money and without a trade and that he turned to the itinerant trade of peddling or hawking, probably around Stockton-on-Tees. It is likely he began to sell his goods, one day a week, from a trestle table in Kirkgate open market, the ‘midden’ as it was known, not earlier than 1884 and also at other markets in Castleford and Wakefield, as well as selling door to door.

Part of Michael’s flair was to choose that task for his own future; and then take himself within that future from the ‘licensed hawker’, as identified on his marriage certificate when at the age of 22, he married the 21-year-old Hannah Cohen in 1886 at the Belgrave Synagogue, to become a partner in what was to become the Marks & Spencer that we know today.

Kirkgate Market was built in 1826 as an open market, extended in 1846, until in 1857, a covered market was opened on the site, its design inspired by the Crystal Palace of the 1851 Great Exhibition.

In 1886 Michael took up a stall inside the covered market, in 1894, he acquired a permanent stall there and in that year that met Skipton-born Tom Spencer and one of the most famous partnerships in retail history was launched with the creation of their Penny Bazaar. Today there is a clock commemorating the setting up of the first stall by Michael.